End of the Road 2023: A vintage weekend from a five-star festival

Even after 17 years, the glorious feeling of descending upon Larmer Tree Gardens for the last hoorah of the summer hasn’t shown even the slightest sign of waning for attendees of End of the Road Festival. With a host of incredible acts lined up to perform across four days, alongside an assortment of other exciting activities to indulge in, it’s safe to say that the festival came up trumps once again. It’s hard to bestow so much praise on an event without being gushy, but in an attempt to summarise just how much of a vintage year it was, here’s the Wax summary of what went down, plus a few interviews conducted on site with bands that performed at the festival.

Kicking off festivities on the Woods Stage were The Last Dinner Party, who despite their infancy as a band probably need no introductions. As one of the hottest tickets on the indie circuit at the moment, there was already lots of excitement surrounding their set and they certainly didn’t disappoint. There’s plenty of theatrics about them in both their music and the way the band present themselves on stage, with vocalist Abi Morris giving off an air of Jarvis Cocker as a frontperson. There’s not many other bands around currently that only have two songs released that could have lived up to the occasion, but The Last Dinner Party did so with aplomb.

It’s now well known fact that Deerhoof are a long-time favourite act of mine, and always manage to be exhilarating live, so there was no doubt that they’d manage to deliver their usual magic. Some may have wondered whether their frantic sound would suit being on such a big stage, but they filled it with no questions asked and produced a storming set that traversed their entire discography. Those unfamiliar with the band had their minds blown, and those already acquainted left with beaming grins on their faces as always.

Jeff Tweedy of Wilco (credit: Chris Juarez)

Taking the slot of Thursday night headliners were alt-country stalwarts Wilco, much to the delight of many already at the festival. Jeff Tweedy and co are no strangers to performing at End of the Road, and found themselves with many ardent supporters singing along to the likes of ‘Jesus etc’, ‘Handshake Drugs’ and ‘Impossible Germany’ among a slew of others from their vast catalogue. There’s a true sense of professionalism in everything they do, and they’re clearly masters of making something subtle stand out in such an elegant way. By the end, there wasn’t a dry eye in the field, and that’s certainly more than good enough to finish off the opening night.

Friday morning began with the first of three interviews for Wax, with Dutch indie rockers Personal Trainer pulling up a pew to chat to me about their excitement for performing at the festival. Willem Smit (vocals) and Kilian Kayser (percussion) were in attendance to act as dual spokesmen for the band.

Personal Trainer interview

First things first – Kilian, I’m hearing you’re training for a marathon whilst you’re here. How’s that going?

KK: It’s true, yeah. I had this pretty rigid scheme I found on the internet to beat my personal best. I did it once before, and in October I’ll do the second one in Amsterdam. I want to beat my personal best, so I have this schedule that says what I have to run and on which days. Today was three lots of two mile intervals in 30 minutes, so that’s a bit faster than yesterday night made possible.

So you’re aiming to be a personal trainer in two senses?

KK: I don’t think I have the patience to train other people to do this.

This is your first time playing End of the Road, and you have the pleasure of being here the whole weekend. How are you finding the festival so far, and what does it mean to you to be invited to a place like End of the Road?

WS: I really like it, it seems really nice. We saw two great bands yesterday but that’s basically it until now. It’s really special to play at a festival with a lot of acts that we normally listen to.

KK: For me it’s the most special, because when I was 20 in 2015, when End of the Road had their 10th anniversary, Sufjan Stevens played, and I’m a big fan. Me and my best friend, we signed up to be volunteers, so we flew to Stansted, hitchhiked first to Stonehenge, then to here, and spent a whole week here, scanning tickets. I had the week of my life, we had no tent with us because when you’re 20 you bring nothing, and you just sort of see. It felt really cool when we got the offer for this, and to be on the same stage where I saw Sufjan Stevens play when I was eight years younger. It feels really cool to come full circle. Yesterday I went to blow up my air mattress in the volunteers’ headquarters and it was really funny to walk in there again eight years later and I saw some of the same people still volunteering there. I had a conversation with this lady and she was like, “oh my god, now you’re playing!”. It was really cute.

I think if you’re here once, you’re here for life, basically. It’s one of those festivals that’s got a draw to it.

WS: I do get the feeling when I walk around here that everyone already kind of knows what’s up.

You’ve got a quite daunting task tomorrow of opening the main stage, but I feel like you as a band are never really fazed by anything. For you, does this feel like quite a big moment in the history of Personal Trainer?

WS: I’ve tried not to think about it like that.

KK: I think this summer we did a couple of stages we always wanted to play or to be honest, never really thought we were going to play, like this Dutch festival called Best Kept Secret, there’s a stage we played this year that felt kind of similar. For me personally, and I don’t think for the rest of the band, it changes for the show that much. It’s more like a cool moment where you look forward to it. On Tuesday we played a show in a Dutch town in a town square; it’s not one of those things you look forward to when you’re little, but it was the most fun show we’ve ever done and it felt really nice. I think every show can feel really good or really historical in a way for us.

I don’t want to jump to any conclusions but I feel like you’re possibly coming to the end of the cycle of Big Love Blanket. Do you feel like you know where you’re going next and what the plans are for the future of the band? What are you doing at the moment in terms of writing and recording?

WS: We have a lot of new music recorded, quite a big batch actually. I’m really happy with it.

Are you quite prolific in your writing or do you make a habit of writing regularly?

WS: I used to do it a lot. I didn’t write as much last year as I normally did before that, probably because we’re a little busier touring now. There was so much work piled up already that I just kind of carried things from the big pile. I kind of worked on that and actually recorded stuff. I write the music and I record most of it myself.

KK: We’re very lucky with that because we don’t need seven people to all be in a room together to make the music. Willem can just do it and that’s really cool because then the rest can just live their lives and be there for the shows and stuff.

How does that differ from when you were doing stuff with Canshaker Pi and Steve French, was that more of a collaborative situation?

WS: I guess the main difference is the recording process. I think in a way it was actually easier back then because I would just think of the songs and then go to the band and we’d rehearse it together and then just record it all in one go. Now the whole recording process is a lot of adding and a lot of scrapping and it just takes a very long time; mainly because I’m in control of it all and it’s harder for me to finish stuff. It just takes years.

KK: I do think that when it’s finished the translation to live is easier now. With Steve French especially, but also with Canshaker Pi, it still felt like when there was a song finished or a demo it was more searching around the room for what you can add or do differently. I feel like with Personal Trainer it’s more clear what we need to do with a song when it’s finished to play it live.

I wanted to ask you a little bit about the scene in the Netherlands. I’ve always felt that it’s quite similar to the UK in terms of what scenes become popular. Do you feel like there’s a good sense of community with all the bands that have come out of Amsterdam and beyond?

WS: There’s an alright sense of community.

KK: I think to a certain extent all the bands share the same spirit. We usually really like each other’s stuff and go to each other’s shows. The nice thing about the Netherlands is that it’s even more dense than the UK, so if your friends are from Groningen or Rotterdam, it doesn’t really matter because the longest you’ll be in a car or a train is one and a half hours. It’s basically like we all live in London. You feel like all your friends are doing cool stuff because it’s easier to make friends on a nationwide scale. I think in terms of popularity, it’s only terrible bands. There’s a lot of rough stuff from the Netherlands. The things that are actually popular don’t really come to the UK, they just play a lot of shows in the Netherlands. They have their scene on their own, but I feel like the bands that we feel closer to come to the UK more.

I guess the things that make it over here or that I’m paying attention to is because I like it, so bands like yourselves, Pip Blom and Global Charming.

KK: I think the most popular things in the Netherlands all sing in Dutch so they’ll never come over. We can recommend you some cool Dutch language things though.

Yeah, of course.

WS: Thor Kissing is a really productive musician right now. I think he puts out a record every two weeks or something. Frino is really cool. De Jeugd van Tegenwoordig, they’re actually huge. They’re like one of the biggest hip-hop groups in the Netherlands and they’re really good.

KK: Yeah they’re really inspiring. It means “the youth of today”, I guess.

Willem particularly, you’re quite known for stage antics. You’ve always got something that you’re winding up the rest of the band with or winding up the audience with. Have you ever had any moments where it’s completely gone wrong?

WS: Actually, we played a show at the Windmill two days ago and it kind of just didn’t work for me. We were really, I don’t know, scared and really self-conscious, so I kind of imploded. I just completely kind of blanked. I didn’t know where I was anymore.

I just don’t expect that from you. You always save a lot of life and comfort on stage.

KK: The funny thing is I think the rest of the band has the same. It can happen, but you don’t really expect it. Willem is the pace-setter in a way, so if you’re feeling rowdy then stuff like that happens, but if Willem’s not feeling it then it’s really hard to have to go along with it.

I kind of see you as having a second home here in the UK; you’ve established quite a good following here and you’ve played here quite a lot. Are there any bands and venues who you particularly look up to in the UK that have really helped or inspired you?

WS: One of the first bands from the UK that I met while touring was Bull. They were really nice people. It’s quite funny that York is one of the places where we still have a lot of friends, and they introduce us to a lot of cool music and stuff. I also really like the guy who provides our shows in Leeds. His name is Joe Coates, he’s a really cool guy.

KK: Sports Team were really supportive of us as well.

What are you most excited for this weekend other than playing?

WS: I’m most excited for Blue Bendy, Geese and Bar Italia.

KK: I really wanted to see Wunderhorse but they cancelled. Okay Kaya will be pretty cool as well. Oh, and I’m excited for PVA. The thing I’m most looking forward to is this place in between the Folly and the Woods Stage called Wayne’s Woods. It’s a wood carving workshop, and you can have a workshop in wooden spoon carving. I did it eight years ago with a spoon, and it’s still a great spoon, so I think I’ll go back to Wayne and make a fork. You know, complete the set.

Returning to the action and another act also generating their fair share of buzz, Fat Dog took to the Big Top early in the afternoon. Considering how raucous they can be, the band felt taken aback that so many people were up for joining them in the party atmosphere so early in the day. While it almost felt tame to begin with and took the group a while to find their groove, frontman Joe Love soon found himself clambering into the audience and writhing around on the floor, befitting of his crown as ‘King of the Slugs’. 

Soon after were Adwaith, who I was seeing for the first time since their early years. The group have grown so much in sound and confidence, and seem on track to becoming another in a long tradition of inventive music from their homeland of Wales, not to mention that they sing in their mother tongue. While they weren’t expecting so many to embrace this stylistic choice compared to when they play at home, there was a decent contingent of people fully on board with them and cheering at every opportunity.

Horse Lords (credit: Chris Juarez)

The first of a couple of mind-bending sets on what was becoming a scorcher of an afternoon came from Baltimore’s Horse Lords. With impenetrable grooves and polyrhythms too hard to even bother counting without the mental and physical fortitude required, it’s clear that they speak a language amongst each other that lies beyond the comprehension of mere mortals in the crowd. The tracks from last year’s Comradely Objects were real standouts, possibly taking their place as some of the most inventive music made in the last five years, and their live show remarkably holds up as being just as impressive. 

In a valiant attempt to be in multiple places at once, there was some dipping and diving between sets for much of the rest of the afternoon, firstly with Katy Kirby at the Folly, who provided a softer comedown from the madness of before and showcased much of her material from last year’s Cool Dry Place with a dry sense of humour. Bodega followed on the main stage and had an electric energy about them, with shades of déjà vu having previously caught them occupying the exact same slot in 2019 but showing a growth in songwriting and presence. Congolese synth wizards KOKOKO! also rocked the Boat Stage as evening drew closer, and despite having no new record in the last four years, they’ve not lost any of their impact. 

Angel Olsen (credit: Gem Harris)

Angel Olsen provided a truly majestic close to the night on the Garden Stage, with her vast catalogue that ranges from scuzzy indie to epic tearjerkers. There was a rapturous response to each moment, whether for the anthemic ‘Shut Up Kiss Me’ or on the simply stunning cuts from Big Time such as when ‘Go Home’ leads up to a roaring crescendo. In a year lacking in imaginative covers, when there’s usually many, it was a delight to hear her close on an impactful rendition of Badfinger’s ‘Without You’, which had the whole crowd united in bellowing its unforgettable chorus.

Around the corner and into the Big Top were Panda Bear & Sonic Boom, performing their collaborative record Reset in its entirety. Being a personal favourite album of mine from last year, to hear it with bells, whistles and myriad circus-like sound effects alongside arrestingly psychedelic visuals made for a joyous occasion, not to mention that the vocals of Noah Lennox (aka Panda Bear) have never felt stronger. The duo’s dedication to recreating the warmth of 60s sunshine pop with a modern twist knows no bounds, and the way it translates live makes it seem like they’re both having immense fun recreating it.

Pete Kember of Panda Bear & Sonic Boom (credit: Chris Juarez)

Day two was almost over, but not before the traditional secret sets in the Folly courtesy of the Mary Wallopers and Be Your Own Pet. Having missed the former, it was a treat to have caught the Nashville punk group on their long overdue return, and going by the way they roared through half an hour of their high-octane rippers, you wouldn’t know that they’ve been absent for the last 14 years – this felt like a band still in their prime.

Making their debut at the top of the Saturday billing was Saint Jude; the project of producer Jude Woodhead that takes inspiration from garage and dub. Having evaded playing live for so long due to suffering longterm with tinnitus, Jude has finally made his way onto the stage in recent months, but opts to mitigate noise levels by hushing and slowing things to their most minimalist form. It’s a calm opening to the day, but not exactly the most suitable preparation for the carnage that was to come.

Having already interviewed Personal Trainer the day before, I was aware that I’d be in for a treat with their Woods Stage appearance. Never short of freewheeling energy and oddball humour, the band opened with frontman Willem Smit producing some death metal howls before kicking into the one-two of ‘Big Love Blanket’ and would-be-festival-hit ‘The Lazer’, both instantly drawing in the crowd with their hooks and antics in equal measure. There were further japes to come, with Kilian using his drums as a podium and covering every inch of the stage when not on percussion duties, and with their seven members oozing charisma throughout, it begs the question how soon in the future they’ll be occupying the headline slot, because by god they’d be capable of it.

MF Tomlinson (credit: Rachel Juarez-Carr)

With one of the most earnest sets of the weekend, Australian singer-songwriter MF Tomlinson dazzled with tracks from his latest record, We Are Still Wild Horses. Despite the complex arrangements on the record, everything felt full when the seven additional members of his band came together, and while the title track from the album was the outstanding highlight in its 20-minute sprawl, Tomlinson almost brought the house down when performing ‘End of the Road’ – a song written about coming to this very festival for many years.

Swiftly after were Tapir!; one of the most enigmatic bands emerging from the London circuit. With their wistful electronic folk that draws inspiration from nature and the land around us, and very much fresh from the release of their second EP out on Heavenly Recordings, Tapir!’s set was a breezy introduction to the mid-afternoon that felt incredibly well suited to being in a field with its bucolic feel. In addition to the little red alien helmets they come on stage equipped with, they were also accompanied by a dancer who writhed fluidly for the whole set, adding to the mysterious world that the band create. Intrigued to find out more about what makes the band tick and how they came to produce their two recent EPs, I sat down with Ike Gray (vocals/guitar), Ronnie Longfellow (bass), Emily Hubbard (cornet/synths), Tom Rogers-Coltman (guitar), Will McCrossan (keys) and Wilfred Cartwright (drums/cello) straight after their set.

Tapir! interview

I’m glad I’ve got you all together because during your set, the festival post service came along with two letters for you. They wanted to frisbee them onto the stage, and I said, I’m interviewing them afterwards so I can just give them to the band. I have one here for “shaggy-haired bass player in Tapir!”.

RL: That’s me.

And another for “tall ginger in the band Tapir!”. I’d like you to open them and read them out if they’re PG.

TRC: Well, firstly, I’ve got [stickers of] chickens.

RL: I didn’t get any stickers, but there’s a little collage on mine. [opens letter] I have a good one, I can’t lie. It says; “baleg deh”. The ‘d’ is missing though. 

[Ronnie goes on to explain this is from the famous book, ‘The Bible’ – I’m still none the wiser]

TRC: Mine says; “To Tom Rogers-Coltman, you are sexy and have locks of spun gold. PS. maybe we can get off”. It doesn’t say who it’s from though.

Tapir! (l-r; Emily Hubbard, Ike Gray, Tom Rogers-Coltman)

Onto actual interview territory now that we’ve got the silliness out of the way. You’ve had quite a busy week with your new EP Act 2 (Their God) now out. Could you tell us a little bit about the themes behind the record and how it’s sort of a continuation from Act 1 The Pilgrim?

IG: So we’ve moved a little bit. The first act was very location based, based on top of a hill going into the nether, which is like a wood area. Then for the second EP, it’s all based on the ocean and the beach, basically.

Are you quite influenced by nature generally?

TRC: Definitely. For the opening interlude, and throughout the album, there’s a bunch of field recordings. I’m quite into locational, atmospheric recording and stuff like this. So throughout the project, there’s different place-making tracks that include atmospheric sounds, and I guess that sort of bleeds into the music as well at some points.

IG: We’ve tried to make it so that the songs, and the different themes for each act are influenced by the songs as well. So the styles are a little different for each act – in our heads at least.

What generally influences you music-wise? There’s a couple of references to other works in your music such as ‘My God’, which feels like an interpolation of [Mary Wells’] ‘My Guy’, and then you’ve got the Eric Satié reference on ‘Gymnopédie’. What swings the musical direction of the band?

IG: A lot of the songs were written over a very long period and I think a lot of them kind of come from different places, if that makes sense. So overall, there was a couple of songs from years and years ago and then when we had the narrative, it kind of acted as a nice blueprint to put in different ideas. We started writing music very heavily influenced by kind of narrative driven musicians.

WM: Things like Randy Newman and Harry Nilsson

TRC: Even though maybe our stuff doesn’t exactly sound like that, I think that kind of approach to character-driven songs and grander narratives is maybe taken from that. You can be very fantastical about everything and take it bigger than just the stage.

IG: Having a very simple story narrative was like having a skeleton basically.

Had you all been in bands together before or is this the first time you’ve come together?

Kind of, in various combinations.

TRC: Yeah, we all kind of knew each other and then it gradually came from that. It’s just been quite a natural evolution of the band, I think.

When it comes to putting all of the tracks together, is it quite a collaborative process or is there someone who takes the lead?

IG: In terms of writing songs, there’s some tracks where me and Tom got together and started playing and then there’s some songs that are one of those things that just happen kind of by chance. It feels best when we’ve got this part and then someone else has another part and they just click which is really nice.

WM: It’s usually ideas of songs and then kind of expanding them out.

TRC: A lot of them came together when we recorded them. There was a framework that had been written by Ike and then when we were in the studio – I say studio but it was in a bedroom – it all came together. 

WM: When Emily got on board we recorded the cornet parts, and then Wilf came on board and then that changed everything as well.

TRC: Every step of the way there’s been changes and the songs have picked up bits and pieces here and there.

I’m assuming as a result of that that the live set is quite often how you initially imagined the songs?

WC: I actually think most of them came together in recording and then maybe the live show is just trying to piece it together.

RL: The band was just a four piece for almost a year, so the songs were sort of like that and then as the others joined it just got better live. Some of them sound really different to the album, and I think that’s really cool. The best example is ‘Gymnopédie’, where on the album it’s like a drum machine, but live Wilf plays quite loud drums and that really makes it feel more live. I didn’t know that would be the case.

How did you find your set earlier? What’s your general impression of End of the Road so far? 

TRC: It was a lot of fun!

IG: It’s nice having a lot of friends here to see us as well.

TRC: Me and Ronnie were saying around Christmas last year if we got booked for End of the Road we’d be really happy with that. If the world ended tomorrow, I’d be pretty gassed with that.

Are you regulars here?

IG: Ten years ago was my first time coming here and was my first proper festival aged 17. 

What have you seen this year?

TRC: We came on Thursday night to see Wilco and Deerhoof, and saw Angel Olsen as well. Managed to miss both Mary Wallopers sets, but excited for Overmono tonight.

Wrapping up on a silly question – you’re noted for having an exclamation mark at the end of your name, what other acts throughout history could have been improved with more punctuation?

RL: I’m sure there’s a good answer where if you add a comma maybe it changes the meaning.

EH: I feel like Vashti Bunyan would be funny.

So ‘Vashti, Bunyan’?

EH: No, ‘Vashti Bunyan!’

TRC: Maybe even a question mark – ‘Vashti Bunyan?’

EH: Given her kind of disappearing and then kind of coming back again, a ‘Vashti Bunyan!’ entrance would be my answer.

TRC: ‘Ween?’ – I kind of like that. It suits them.

Zach Choy of Crack Cloud (credit: Andy Ford)

After a short break to regain energy, Crack Cloud were next on the agenda. The Vancouver collective never fail to impress in a live setting and have become a mainstay of the festival in recent years, and while the collective approach might seem loose, they’re certainly one of the tightest bands going. The tracks from Tough Baby showcase them at their most euphoric and adventurous, with a willingness to explore a multitude of genres, but the high energy of their earlier releases still cause pandemonium, as do the group-chanted choruses of tracks like ‘Please Yourself’.

There was thankfully time afterwards to squeeze in a portion of Belgian post-disco voyagers Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul, who clearly set out to shake up the Big Top. Their debut album Topical Dancer really turned heads with its insatiable grooviness and sharp socio-political observations, and having been a fan for a long time it’s hard to say their newfound following is anything but highly deserved. With songs like ‘Ceci n’est pas un cliche’ and its punching bassline, their live show delivers exactly as you’d expect and then some, and it may have been one of the regrets of the weekend to have not experienced it in full.

Charlotte Adigéry (credit: Gem Harris)

Taking the headline slot on the Garden Stage was Arooj Aftab, and her breakout album Vulture Prince was another that captured our hearts at Wax. The Pakistani-American artist has since gone onto even greater heights and felt like a perfect fit for the slot, filling the Garden with her ethereal jazz and Terry Riley-inspired minimalist works. Swells of harp could be heard from the back above the blissful silence of the crowd, making for a truly enchanting set. 

The final two sets I caught before venturing into the woods for a late-night dance were High Vis and PVA, both of which offered a swift change of pace from Arooj Aftab’s delicate approach. London post-hardcore merchants High Vis were as predictably powerful as their 2022 album Blending would suggest, with frontman Graham Sayle’s intense presence backed by a furious wall of noise, making for one of the most abrasive and visceral sets of the day. Not far behind in their intensity were PVA, who despite being down to two of three members capped off a magnificent third day with alternative versions of some of their heavier tracks such as ‘Untethered’, substituting the vocals of Ella Harris with a greater amount of rave-like synths. A good one-two gut-punch in the Folly never goes amiss, and this one really made its mark.

With festival exhaustion beginning to give me a good kicking, I rose bright and early to speak to one of my most highly-anticipated acts of the Sunday – dance-punk merchants MADMADMAD. Benjamin Bouton (guitar/synths/percussion/FX), Kevin Toublant (bass/Moog/FX) and Matt Kelly (drums/percussion) from the band were on hand to spill the secrets behind creating their latest album and having an incendiary live show.

MADMADMAD interview

MADMADMAD (l-r; Matt Kelly, Benji Bouton, Kev Toublant)

Welcome to End of the Road Festival. How excited are you to be on the bill?

BB: Of course, yeah. It’s a well-known festival so it’s quite a thing for us to be here.

Have you been as punters before?

BB: No, and this time around we’re not going to see anything either. We literally arrived half an hour ago and we have to leave right after.

Are you looking forward to the daytime rousing of the crowd? You’ve got quite an energetic set so do you feel like you have what it takes to get people going at this early hour?

KT: It’s up to them. They’re more than welcome to join but yeah, I think we’re going to try our best.

BB: It’s not the first time we’ve played early, to be honest. The last time was probably Womad or something like that. It was smashing.

KT: Or Bluedot maybe.

BB: There’s no bad time.

You put out an album earlier this year, Behavioural Sink Delirium; your second album. How has the reception been for that and do you feel like the way it translates to the live show has presented any challenges?

BB: I would say it’s a bit of both things that you’re saying. It’s been a bit challenging because it’s a challenging album. We pushed the experiments quite far and we let ourselves go into areas that we had never been before. We’ve all done that under the direction of Eddie Stevens, who’s a brilliant producer and who got the best out of us during these sessions. The experimental part was kind of challenging to put back in our sets because our set is also very dancy, but I feel that we’ve kind of managed that. We took some of these bangers that we have on the new album, and they translate really fucking well on stage. We can see the reception and even us, how we feel when we play them.

Is the live setting more how you intended them to be heard?

BB: I wouldn’t say so. These are two different experiences, right? Listening to an album and experiencing a band live are two different things, so I think the way they are on the album is how they were intended to be for that purpose. We have to make a clear distinction between what happens on stage and what happens on the record, like most bands probably.

What were your general influential touchstones for the creation of the record? I can hear all sorts of different things throughout it – things that came to mind were Black Dice and Shit & Shine.

KT: Black Dice for sure. There’s so much stuff.

BB: The Residents too, I feel there’s a good amount of that in these recordings. We’re still on that wave that we’ve been surfing on of that late 70s, early 80s New York, post-wave, post-punk, all of that scene, but also very much influenced by electronic music from the early 2000s to now even 90s. In that aspect I feel we covered a lot of the grounds that we just love. To be completely honest with you, when we step into a studio and start recording or start just playing music and making it, we don’t think about these references. This can be a bit intimidating for us to think too much about that, and also we can take out the little magic that we have going on between the three of us trying to set up the clear directions of what it should sound like. We let ourselves go into whatever flows and the influences transpires through that I guess.

How do you feel that you are challenging yourselves to take things further and grow as a band? What sort of things are you doing to push yourselves beyond where you are now?

KT: Well, we play a lot, for sure. We travel a lot, that’s the most challenging, I think.

BB: Keeping up with the pace.

MK: We have two today. We’re going off to another festival afterwards.

KT: I mean, we’re trying our best without even too much thinking about it. We just go for it.

BB: We always try to push it. When we’re back home, we’ve got our little warehouse where we experiment and everything. Technically, our setup on stage is pretty unique. It just suits us, the way we play on stage – all of us playing feeding through our machines and everything can be sampled, looped, replayed, overdubbed. That was challenging technically when we started doing that. Every six months, we try to find a new way to stay excited and to find something that brings more magic to us when we do it. On the creative part, if we feel something is either a bit déjà vu or if we’re resting in a comfortable place or something, we quickly get out of that place and try to get different sound textures, harmonies, whatever translates into something that we like, basically.

Other than your own set, what other shows have you ever witnessed that embody the name MADMADMAD?

BB: I would think there’s many bands that could fit in that description, I guess. I mean, the first name that comes to mind, like if you see Idles Live, they’re fucking crazy. The Psychotic Monks as well, that’s a great band. We’ve toured with them and we’re friends, and each time we see them, it’s very influential for us.

KT: Aphex Twin too, that’s mad.

BB: Now, that brings the madness to the table.

Tiger Cohen-Towell of Divorce (credit: Andy Ford)

Opening the main stage for the final day were Divorce; a band that are rightfully on a strong upward trajectory due to their impressive output so far and grandiose live presence. The harmonies and melodies woven by dual vocalists Tiger Cohen-Towell and Felix McKenzie-Barrow are to die for and it’s clear after the year they’ve had that they’re brimming with confidence. While there’s not a massive setlist yet, you can absolutely see them climbing the pecking order for another spot on the main stage in a few years’ time.

As mentioned before, MADMADMAD delivered on having one of the most incendiary sets of the weekend, fusing bonkers techno with disco-punk basslines and absurd effects laden over everything they did. Benji Bouton seemingly had bags of energy within him, and regularly left his spot atop his podium to bounce around and rile up a crowd who once again had risen early for some insanity, and the band well and truly lived up to their name in incredible fashion.

Geese (credit: Andy Ford)

Many over the weekend had been eyeing up Geese as a band to watch due to their exceptional record 3D Country being high on people’s albums of the year list, and the New York band quickly sped headfirst into displays of musical showboating in the best ways, with virtuosic players in every department and Cameron Winter’s incredible range stunning everyone. They might all look like they come from wildly different scenes, but they come together to form a proggy, country-infused rollercoaster of a set, and a truly mind-blowing one at that.

A rare trip to the Talking Heads stage paid off well with one of the most intimate and gorgeous sets from one of the year’s breakout stars in Kara Jackson. The Chicago artist created lush folk by herself, channelling the likes of Joni Mitchell in her guitar style, and with a Fiona Apple-esque approach to storytelling and melody. With a sizeable crowd sat on the bank in front of the stage, Jackson’s incredibly stark lyricism felt crushingly personal at times, and made for one of the standout moments of the weekend.

Kara Jackson (credit: Rachel Juarez-Carr)

Between this and the later part of the night, there was opportunity to see bar italia; a band surrounded by a certain mystique which still comes across in their live performances. The group have become far less elusive in the past year or so, but this shyness still comes across when playing live, with minimal eye contact and shrouding themselves in typical shoegaze strangeness, it made for a great opportunity to wind down from some of the more manic acts of the day. Yot Club were also a pleasant surprise over on the Folly, with Ryan Kaiser’s project generating a mixture of breezy indie rock with a smattering of art punk and providing plenty of charm. Sunday headliners King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard were very much in one of their typical moods, which is to say their set veered all over the place with extended jams, jazz interludes and doom metal freakouts. The hardest working group in music currently without question, the Australian six-piece had legions of fans there to witness their last date of the tour, and their madness suitably summed up the variety on show throughout the weekend.

That wasn’t quite curtains for the festival however, as Dublin’s The Murder Capital closed out on the Big Top in style. The band took to the stage with an immensely big attitude about them, but always manage to live up to the bravado, but on the other hand there’s a sense of love and community amongst the five members who pour every part of themselves into each song. The voice of James McGovern has developed into a haunting croon at times on tracks from Gigi’s Recovery, and his usual stunts of sparking up a cigarette on stage before launching himself over the photo pit into the crowd made for the weekend’s finest display of rock and roll athleticism. The band are truly in their prime now having played here three years ago, and it’s exciting to wonder where this will take them down the line.

The Murder Capital (credit: Andy Ford)

Despite all the other great bands over the course of the weekend, Personal Trainer still stood tall as the highlight of the weekend, and the only band now capable of topping that Saturday set was Personal Trainer themselves. Their closing secret set delivered all of the madness of before and turned it up a couple of notches, with shirtless (and trouserless) antics from Willem, water being poured over bare thighs and gross-out contests to see who could catch the sweat that was dripping off the tent ceiling. The crowd went feral for a full 40 mins and their wild abandon was truly a sight to behold as they ripped through a set that provided many different highlights to the day before, fully confirming that the band have any audience in the palms of their hands.

The festival always delivers with the final set of the weekend and this was no different, but that’s not to say that the rest of 2023’s End of the Road was without multiple stellar performances. Despite missing out on so many other things, such as the final (for now) show from Ezra Furman, a surprise appearance from Wet Leg, and other impressive names such as Unknown Mortal Orchestra, there’s always something to find joy in, and with such a vintage year curated by the organisers, it was with a heavy heart that Monday came and it was all over. Until next year…

Words and Portraits: Reuben Cross // Live Photos: Andy Ford, Rachel Juarez-Carr, Chris Juarez, Gem Harris

End of the Road 2024 tickets are now on sale. Secure yourself a spot next year here. Listen to the official playlist of artists at the festival below.

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